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Quote of the Day: Antoni Gaudí
“The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.” — Antoni Gaudí
Great architects are usually oddballs and Gaudí may have been the oddest. They also tend to be egomaniacs, yet the Barcelonan seemed as humble as they come. When he was fatally struck by a car in 1926, no one wanted to take the 73-year-old to the hospital since he was obviously just some homeless beggar.
He fell after departing his masterwork, la Basilica de la Sagrada Família, a structure one @jameslileks of Minneapolis, MN, described as “ugly” a few weeks ago on the flagship podcast. For shame.
I’ve long been a frustrated architect, steered away from the profession by a high school drafting teacher and a guidance counselor. Mr. Lileks probably knows more about the subject than I do. Yet I still waste too much time following architecture blogs and critiquing most of today’s “starchitects.” And brutalism. And Frank Gehry and Le Corbu. But I’m a big fan of Sr. Gaudí.
A devout Catholic nicknamed “God’s architect,” Gaudí had a singular vision, taking notes from no school but nature. Upon graduating from the University of Barcelona at age 18, his professor commented, “I do not know if we have awarded this degree to a madman or to a genius; only time will tell.”
From early on, Gaudí decided since there are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature, his buildings would have neither. Instead, he worked with nature rather than against it, basing his columns on trees, the supports on branches, and the details on natural forms from the sea. None of this “a house is a machine for living” nonsense.
After gaining acclaim (and some derision) for structures like Park Güell and Casa Milà, a Catholic philanthropist asked Gaudí to build a church. He had requested a neo-Gothic style, which Gaudí rejected.
“Gothic art is imperfect, only half resolved; it is a style created by the compasses, a formulaic industrial repetition,” Gaudí wrote. “Its stability depends on constant propping up by the buttresses: it is a defective body held up on crutches.”
Instead, Gaudí based the structure on a forest, each column a tree that rises into various branches, creating a series of intertwined vaults. The result was fractal, a term that wasn’t invented until the 1970s.
Nothing in the church is made via assembly line, but handcrafted and unique. Details abound, dissimilarities intentional, the unity coming instead from the structure as a whole. Everything has a reason.
One example: the basilica’s four central pillars represent the four authors of the gospels. They are arranged in a “fairy ring,” a naturally-occurring phenomenon where redwoods grow in an almost perfect circle from the roots of a fallen tree. The fallen tree, in this case, being Jesus Christ.
I mean, come on, that’s awesome.
The stained-glass windows on the eastern side offer cool colors, while warm colors are on the west, painting the interior over the course of the day like the rising and setting of the sun. A masterpiece from the tiniest detail to the grandest steeple.
Only a quarter of the church was built when he died, but Gaudí never expected to see it completed. “My client is not in a hurry,” he explained. Yet his followers plan to finish it by 2026, the 100-year anniversary of the great man’s death.Published in General
We visited the basilica, and we were amazed and found it entrancing. You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate its uniqueness and grandeur.
When I worked in France, my life-time partner — who I refer to as my second wife that I married first, aka, my trophy wife (she just hates that line) — lived at 17 Rue La Fontaine in a two-floor apartment that was designed by Hector Guimard. Guimard and Guadí were, if not contemporaries, overlapping influences. Compare 17 Rue La Fontaine to Casa Batllo.
17 Rue La Fontaine
Guadí received little to no acclaim and lived a rather modest life. In fact, having just visited his great “drip sand castle”, Sagrada Família, Guadí was walking back to his office and fatally struck by an automobile. They left him on the street thinking he was a bum.
Guimard, on the other hand, received wide acclaim as the master of Art Nouveau. His organic flows and lines that resemble the leaves and vines of trees and plants can still be seen throughout Paris to this day.
My first day at 17 Rue La Fontaine, with boxes strewn everywhere, I was forced to eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast at an improvised table near a curtainless window. I noticed a big bus pull up across the wide intersection. Out poured 30-40 Japanese who were photographing me, in my window eating my breakfast, as they pointed at and admired me. Then I realized, “NO”, I am sitting in one of the most cherished buildings on the architectural tour of Paris — it never occurred to me that the procession would go on every day, all day, seven days a week.
I would spend much time on business and vacation in Barcelona — a truly wonderful place to read while drinking coffee in the morning and Cava in the afternoon at a sidewalk cafe. Sagrada Família is one of my favorite haunts. It is Art Nouveau after being melted. If you photograph it slightly out of focus, you will see why I refer to it as similar to those dripped sand castles we made at the beach as children.
Like @exjon, I too was on my way to becoming an architect and actually have designed a few homes — including the one I live in today. Architects are a dedicated lot, not quite artists, not quite builders, and certainly not engineers. We frustrated architects are left with the scraps of life we draw from light and others who tickle our imaginations. If Jim Lileks (who I truly appreciate) lacks the imagination of Sagrada Família, then the rest of us plebeians will more than fill that cup. For all of us build our own cathedrals in our minds so we may live on for eternity, a hundred years, or maybe an afternoon at the beach. A few actually live to see them built in stone and concrete.
Bravo Hector. Bravo Antoni. And Bravo John! May you all live forever! Me, talentless as I am, will be lucky to live to 90 — and hopefully with my second wife who I married first (couldn’t resist).
The basilica strikes me as a hybrid of Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.
A wonderful tribute, Mr. Gabriel.
Visiting La Sagrada Familia has been on my bucket list ever since my college days (Class of ’82), when I embarked on a relatively short-lived exploration of majoring in Architecture. Perhaps I’ll manage to be there at its completion in ’26, and (who knows?) accidentally bump into you while gawking upward.
I have never been attracted to la Sagrada Familia as its exterior reminds me too much of the home of dirt dauber wasps.
Maybe the inspiration?
I agree with James. I have a series from The Great Courses about The World’s Greatest Churches and I did not like la Sagrada Família.
Yes, I’ll grant you that that is interesting, but I doubt that I would notice if it wasn’t pointed out. If I don’t notice isn’t the effect wasted?
The idea of modeling the whole building after a forest is interesting, and the different colors of stained glass on the east and west is cool. That I would like to see.
I did enjoy this post, even though I am not a fan of la Sagrada Família. . Thanks for putting it up.
Beautiful picture. I have tried to capture light through stained glass in other places but with limited success. I’ll allow that perhaps there are design features here to enhance that effect?
This comment is probably obvious, but seeing photos and being there in person is totally different.
Or, …. The other way around?
I recall learning that Gaudi had used arrangments of strings bearing weights in tension to work out the curves his designs would require to bear weight in compression.
AnalogCAD. Why do vector math when gravity will do it for you? Same professor judging the quizzes as the final exam.
I side with James on the attractiveness of that particular basilica.
On the quote about the curved path being somehow Godly and the straight path, well, not, I’ll quote the first 3 verses of what is believed to be the oldest Gospel:
Many (most) people do not initially notice important components in a work of art or literature.
Did you notice or understand every element in a Shakespeare play at first look? Many famous and traditional works of art (like Michelangelo’s paintings for example) have depths of meaning that one or two looks don’t reveal.
The Walrus was Paul.
Don’t crystals have both straight lines and sharp corners?
Good post. I’d love to see it someday. I wouldn’t want all the churches to look like Sagrada Familia, but I’m delighted that at least one church looks like it.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That’s a feature of nature, no?
Please name a SINGLE organism in nature that gets from Point A to Point B in a STRAIGHT line.
Organism? Is nature made up only of organisms? If so, what is the Department of Physics doing in the College of Natural Science?
Every one of them, for sufficiently short lines.
This is the most interesting thing I’ve read all day. It makes me want to live in a tree house. I watched an HGTV show earlier today (my hands were held hostage by the manicurist) in which a couple had their dream home built in 100 days. It was a stark white box with a couple triangles stuck on the front for ornamentation. The effect was rather sterile. There was some sort of new technology used to construct the steel frame. Straight lines indeed, but no inspiration from nature. I wonder what the effect of living in that house will be.
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I’m sorry James cannot appreciate something different and well- out there. You can’t compare the beauty of an orange to an apple. Likewise it’s best not to compare a Gothic Cathedral or a centuries old classical Italian church to the la Basilica de la Sagrada Família. All three can be very inspiring but in different ways, and the Basilica is definitely inspiring. A true piece of art.
Gaudi’s stuff is not for everybody though but much of it is truly unique and beautiful, particularly his tile work which has been copied the world over since.
I visited the Basilica like 17 years ago and much of it was still under construction, so I really appreciate GP’s photo. which shows it much more finished. It appeared then that some of Gaudi’s shapes were so complex that it took computers to figure them out and construct.
Sadly I liked the older construction that was clearly handcrafted unlike the newer stuff which was more machine like cast concrete, but still beautiful.
I went to La Sagrada Familia this last December. I agree the outside is busy and a bit ugly, but the inside is the most beautiful structure I have ever been in. Gaudi purposely turned the Gothic cathedral inside and putting all the intricate decoration on the outside. The inside is sublime and the light coming through the stained glass is ethereal. If you are in Barcelona, please do yourself a favor and pay to enter and don’t just stay on the outside.
I’m not a fan of the exterior. The interior is a masterwork beyond compare.